Writer Wednesday – H. David Blalock

Who are you?
H. David Blalock

What type of stuff do you write? (Besides shopping lists)
I have published everything from novels to non-fiction articles, but I mostly write short stories in the speculative fiction genre. I know that’s a broad term, but it covers the majority of my fiction quite well.

What do you want to pimp right now?
My latest novel is the third and final volume of the Angelkiller Triad, Doom Angel. It wraps up the story begun in Angelkiller and Traitor Angel. I believe this series gives a reasonable answer to the age-old question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” in that it explains how, in the war between the Angels of Light and the Angels of Darkness, it was really the Dark that won. Since then, humanity has been conditioned to believe the opposite and has suffered for that illusion.

What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein is probably my all-time favorite. Then there is The Traveller in Black by John Brunner and the Slan series by A. E. Van Vogt. I enjoy how each of these writers took ideas of basic human need, greed, and ambition and turned them into something visceral.

What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
For the past 5 years or so I have been trying to help other writers through the Imagicopter network (www.facebook.com/Imagicopterand www.imagicopter.com) by keeping them informed of events and new venues for their writing. Hopefully, Imagicopter has been useful to the hundred or so members we have across the country.

What link can we find you at?
My personal website is www.thrankeep.com and I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Writer.HDavidBlalock.

*****

On Rejection, And Stuff…

As a writer for the better part of 40 years and editor of my own and others’ work for at least that long, I’ve been on both sides of the rejection issue. For those of you who are just starting out, there are a few things I’d like to pass along.

  1. You cannot publish what you do not finish. Before anything else, finish what you write. Don’t consider anything else until then. Not who will publish it, not how will it get reviewed, not what will your family think of it. Nothing else. Finish the piece, but remember one thing: finish first, then edit.
  2. Don’t edit your piece until it is finished. Editing as you go along prevents you from doing what you want most, that is, have a piece ready for submission. Even the great masters could ruin a piece by constantly making “just one more improvement”. Trust your instincts. Only critique and edit your work after it’s done.
  3. Do not trust spell check as your only proofreader. There are several ways to double-check your spelling and grammar. I recommend reading your work aloud to yourself. This will give you an idea of the flow and readability of the work. Make changes as you go at this point.
  4. Have a disinterested reader look over the work before submitting it. Don’t give it to your mother, father, sister, brother, or even your best friend. And don’t trust writers’ groups to give you more than a cursory idea of what needs to be done. Most of all, remember that whatever feedback you get from proofreaders is just their opinion. You should carefully consider whether their suggestions will improve or hurt your work.
  5. Research the markets for your work and read the guidelines carefully before submission. I cannot stress this enough. You can hurt your ego and sometimes your reputation by not reading the guidelines. Editors do talk among themselves. They will relay information about writers who do not follow guidelines to other editors. It’s a smaller community than you might think.
  6. Be professional! You are going to receive rejection letters. This is part of being a writer. Not every publisher is going to want your work. This is not personal. Publishers have a business to run and to make that business successful they need to cater to their audience, meet deadlines, word limitations, budgets, any number of other factors. Your work may hit them at a bad time or simply may not be what they want. Do not take rejection as a personal attack. Most of all, do not react unprofessionally to rejection by sending the editor a nasty or snide response. I can guarantee this will be passed along to other editors as evidence of your lack of professionalism.
  7. If and when your work is accepted for publication, check the contract closely and don’t sign anything immediately.It’s easy to get excited about the prospect of seeing your work in print but remember that writers get paid, not the other way around. If the publisher expects you to pay to be published, best pass on that one. Unless you are self-publishing for personal reasons, avoid that kind of contract.
  8. Expect the possibility of further editing for word count or content from the publisher. At this point, it is important to remember the publisher’s job is to sell your work. However, you still have the right to remind them you are the writer and your name will be associated with it. Most reputable publishers will work closely with you to find a satisfactory compromise.
  9. Once your work appears, send a note of thanks to the publisher/editor. A good working relationship is based on courtesy and communication. You have built a bridge. Don’t burn it first thing out.
  10. Finally, be prepared to promote your work yourself. Even the big publishing houses do very little promotion for their authors. Learn about book signings, events, conventions, anything that will get your name and work before the public. Make yourself as available as possible. The success of your career as a writer is, in the end, up to you.

 

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Book Review – Dreadnought

Dreadnought
Cherie Priest
Paperback, 2010

Dreadnought is the followup to the incredibly popular Boneshaker, possibly Cherie’s most famous novel.
I love Dreadnought. It’s easily a 5/5 book. So when I found out that there was a sequel, I got really excited.
Dreadnought starts in Virginia with Mercy Lynch, a war nurse getting a couple letters. One tells her that she’s a war widow, the other is from her long estranged father, requesting her visit him in what we know as Washington state.
The book is part alternate history, part Steampunk and part Dieselpunk, with a smattering of western and a groaning of zombie thrown in for good measure. It’s an interesting combination, but I wasn’t disappointed in it.
See, in this book, the Civil War has been going on for about fifteen plus years. Texas was its own republic, with its own problems because of Mexico. Mercy gets her letters and military widow pension and for some reason, decides she needs to cross the country to visit her father, since it was his dying wish.
She then embarks on… pretty much the worst trip ever.
The dirigible she’s on crashes into what becomes the front lines of the war and she loses her suitcase. Every town she gets to, her red cross cloak – worn to help her get safe passage no matter who controls the territory she’s in – seems to draw her business. (At one point she even gets almost bit by one of the un-dead/un-humans.)
After what seems like an eternity, she makes it to Memphis and the Mississippi river, which she takes north to St. Louis before boarding the Dreadnought on a trip west. But that trip is frought with peril, too. The back and front of the train are carrying secret cargo and blocked off. Raiders and another train are coming in to attack, and somebody on the train keeps sabotaging the cars, disconnecting them in motion.
Also, 500 Mexicans are missing and that causes quite a bit of trouble in her trip.

So my comments. First of all, if you didn’t read Boneshaker, you can totally read this book. There are a few comments that relate it back to the first book, but if you hadn’t read them, you wouldn’t have caught it, and honestly, it didn’t really matter – they tell you enough to have played along on your own.
If you have read it, you’ll like how they tie in some things that are going on. I actually am really looking forward to reading the next book. I want to see how they link the stories together since they’re so different.
With that said, the book spends quite a bit of time – as in most of the book – with Mercy stuck on some form of transportation. While this isn’t that bad, it’s a little tedious after a while. I’m sure it would have been for Mercy, too, what with the trip taking weeks by train. But it does limit what can happen. For instance, on the “weeks and weeks” she spends on the train west, the only action we can get is her sleeping or playing cards or walking between the moving train cars.
And that was another thing. This was supposed to be a special train, all souped up and everything. Based on train speeds of the time and the way the book implies Mercy’s time on it, I question why the train trip took so long.
Also, this may be a weird comment, but the fact that Mercy and I share a last name was a bit distracting. I can’t fault the author for it, but I will say that it pulled me out of the story a few times, especially since they generally referred to her by last name instead of first. I didn’t include that in the rating, though.

Even with the book’s problems, I can’t help but wonder what is going to happen in the next one. So considering it’s #2 of 4 (I think), and I can’t stop thinking about how this is going to hook to the first one and continue on, I am going to give it a four out of five. It doesn’t stand as well as the first one on its own, but you’re definitely going to be sorry if you miss out on some of this stuff.

Books Review – Caroline, Rebecca, Kaya

Meet Caroline
Kathleen Ernst
Illustrations Robert Papp
Hardback, 2012

Meet Rebecca
Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Illustrations by Robert Hunt
Paperback, 2009

Meet Kaya
Janet Shaw
Illustrations by Bill Farnsworth
Hardback, 2002

As part of Pleasant Company/American Girl’s decision to retire Molly, Misheal and I went back and read through some of the books – Misheal tackled Molly’s six book series, but I went through and did Molly’s companion books and have now moved on to the other Meet whoever books from the American Girl catalogue.

In Meet Caroline, we’re looking at the first shots of the War of 1812, and a little girl who lives in upstate New York on the shore of a great lake.  When war breaks out, she’s in a boat that her father built with her father and two cousins.  As they go towards Upper Canada, still British owned, they get seized by the British Army, who takes the girls back to their family but hold her father and cousin, Oliver, as prisoners of war.  [Side note – if Oliver is from Upper Canada, he’s a British Citizen.  I don’t know why they took him prisoner…]

In Meet Rebecca, we’re with a Jewish family in the midst of World War I.  Her problems start with not being allowed to say the prayer to light the candles on Saturday, and end with her persecuted Jewish cousins trying to get out of Russia with their lives.

In Meet Kaya, we’re in the midst of a Native American tribe somewhere in the Oregon/Washington/Idaho area (they only show us a map of the tribal lands, they don’t really say where they are) during Salmon Fishing Season.

So now on to my feelings about the books themselves.  First of all, I am a little disappointed (no really) that they broke their format of all the dates ending in 4, but it did open them up to things like the War of 1812, which we learned sadly little about in school.  (The other one, so far, is Cecile and Marie-Grace in New Orleans in 1853.)  But it doesn’t have any bearing on what I thought about these stories, I just wanted to throw it out there.

Some of the early dolls/books were period specific but didn’t really have a lot to deal with/understand.  What I noticed in these three books is that they have gotten a little bit more serious in what they’re talking about.  Caroline is captured by troops, Rebecca is dealing with religious persecution and Kaya gets into a lot of cultural stuff that we may not be that familiar with – family/community obligation, behavior affecting everyone (at one point, something she does causes all of the children of the village to get whipped), etc.

Caroline and Rebecca feel similar, despite being 100 years apart, because they’re dealing with the same sorts of things.  They both have family in really precarious positions – Caroline’s father in a POW camp, Rebecca’s cousins trying to get here from Russia – and they’re both in New York and family centric (although that’s a common theme in all American Girl books).

Interesting, though, was that even though Rebecca’s book starts in 1914, there’s absolutely no discussion about WWI.  For now, I give it the benefit of the doubt, as the assassination of Frans Ferdinand didn’t happen until the end of July, but the way the series starts out, it doesn’t feel like they’re planning to talk about it at all, and that’s my interest in the era.  What I did find curious was that the Russians were persecuting the Jews way back then and that’s not something I’ve *ever* learned in history class.  Public Education Fail for sure.  America seriously needs to stop being so selfish and start teaching about the world.

Kaya’s book, on the other hand, was so totally different.  Her story takes place in 1764, and aside from the Small Pox epidemic being a fleeting comment (her grandmother has the scars and the story to tell), her family doesn’t really have much to do with anything outside her tribe.  What I did like, however, was how close the tribe was.  Even the ones who weren’t blood relation were considered cousins and part of the extended family.  When Kaya’s actions (leaving her little brothers in the care of a blind person so she can go off and race her horse) cause the Whipping Woman to come out and punish all the children of the village, Kaya learns humility and to be a team player.  I have to say, I kind of like the Nimiipuu (nee-MEE-poo aka Nez Perce) culture.  I like how the focus is for the greater good and having a group of people that are family even when they’re not; too often in modern culture, we have families who don’t speak to each other, people who move apart and then let distance cause an emotional separation as well, etc.  Kaya’s motivation was to be a citizen that her tribe was proud of.  If only we had that today.

In all, I love that these books deal with serious topics, but do so in a way that kids (well, girls anyway) can relate to.  In all of these books, we get to see that girls, even if they’re expected to do submit to the female roles of society, can be strong, courageous, and awesome.  Women are more than the cooking and the cleaning, and even if that’s what’s expected of them, they can rise to any occasion, and that is a lesson that I hope every girl gets – you can be amazing, you just have to do it.

I’m going to give these books a 4/5.  I know they’re geared towards 10-year-olds (all the characters turn 10 in their birthday books), but I think they have a broader range than that (easily 7-12, but beyond that), and they’re great as topics of conversation.

Book Review – Nancy Wake: A Biography Of Our Greatest War Heroine by Peter FitzSimons

Title: Nancy Wake: A Biography Of Our Greatest War Heroine
Author: Peter FitzSimons
Format: Paperback
Written & Published: 2001

Nancy Wake was an Australian who was highly decorated by several countries for her efforts during the Second World War. This biography covers her life from birth to 10 years prior to her death at 98 years of age. It paints a stunning picture of a woman too stubborn to give up, who used every resource she had at her disposal to leave the world a better place than she found it. The biography is based heavily on interviews with Nancy and those friends who were still alive to share their memories.

To read this book is to truly see the meaning of determination. Nancy’s personality is clear on every page, and her decision making process is obvious. The biographer is compassionate in his telling of her life, while also managing to maintain a sense of balance with current ideals about what is and is not acceptable.

At first Nancy was nothing more than a young woman living a dazzling life of parties and alcohol, and by the end of it she was a hardened veteran who had killed a man with her bare hands. Her evolution is born of a natural disgust at what was happening in the world and a simple promise to make that evil stop. She held the lives of thousands of men in her hands, and every day that she was on the field directly impacted the capacity of the German war machine.

There are passages within this book that leave me asking questions about myself. Would I have the courage to do what Nancy did? She rode 400km on a bike over mountains that were heavily patrolled by Germans, and she did it in 72 hours with only 5 hours of sleep. She jumped from a moving train through the window while Germans fired on her in the darkness. She calmly called the bluff of a man who had planned to seduce, rob and kill her after she tried to help him. These incidents would be harrowing for anyone else, but for Nancy they were just another moment where she had to act fast.

This biography also covers what it was like to go from being a decorated heroine to being just another secretary in an office or serving coffee to wealthy travellers. The sense of change is dramatic, along with an awareness that while she and the world had both changed, they had not changed for a harmonious fit. There was a struggle to fit in anywhere, to find meaning after such a dramatic experience.

While Nancy’s story is gripping and a true page-turner, there is a strange quality to the text that continually ejected me from the narrative. It is almost as if Nancy’s voice and the biographer’s voice have tried to merge unsuccessfully into a united whole. The text is consistent in its style and, despite being comfortable with the slang used, at times it felt painfully forced. Readers who are unfamiliar with the Australian vernacular will struggle. I give this book 4 out of 5 pages.

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